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The First Question to Ask Yourself When Something Goes Off the Rails

careers chris kopp leadership pmo project management Jul 19, 2021
How Project Managers Should React When Something Goes Wrong

I once worked for a fellow who had a big job; as in, multiple departments and tons of people rolled up to him. His phone never stopped ringing, and in the constant flow of text messages and email the news was, for the most part, not good: there was a problem in this area, that person is quitting, this delivery was late, that system went down. You get the gist.

Yet, he always seemed pretty chilled.

“How is it that, despite all of the problems that come your way, you’re able to remain so calm?” I inquired.

“The first question I ask myself is,” he said, “Is this even going to matter three months from now? If the answer is NO, then I’m not going to stress about it. We’ll quickly handle it, learn from it, and put it behind us. If the answer is YES, then it will raise my blood pressure and get my utmost attention, but you’d be surprised how few issues fall into that category.”

He was right. Most things we encounter day to day matter in the moment, but are not so big that they will matter three months from now. Prove it to yourself. What end-of-the-world crisis were you dealing with three months ago? Chances are you’ll have a hard time recalling the fire du jour from last week, let alone last quarter.

Take care of the issue at hand without overreacting and causing everything to be an emergency. Save the intensity and focus for things that will still be on everyone’s radar 3+ months from now. You don’t want to become the little boy who cried wolf and whom nobody believes once the threat is real. Also, remember that what one person considers a five-alarm conflagration could be a minor brush fire to you. Remove the emotion, get the facts, and then decide how to proceed.

Even though it was over a decade ago, I vividly remember his one melt down and the reason why. Did things get fixed so they weren’t on everyone’s radar a few months down the road? You better believe it.

So, before you react to bad news, take a split second and ask yourself whether it will even matter three months from now. Then, based upon that answer, proceed accordingly.